Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

The judgment of Carla Foster

‘No one has the right to judge you’ was one of the last posts made on Facebook by Staffordshire ‘mum’ (as the papers are calling her) Carla Foster shortly before discovering that, strictly speaking, this wasn’t quite true. It may well be the mantra by which everybody lives their lives these days, used to justify a myriad of anti-social behaviour stuff and bad life choices and stupidity, but it is in general a delusion. Judging people is an important part of maintaining a stable society – and we all do it. More pertinently, though, in the case of Ms Foster, it was Mr Justice Pepperall who did the judging at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court and, hours after that Facebook post, sentenced her to two years and four months. As a consequence, outrage erupted and even as I write this, the lava is still flowing.

Another couple of weeks and killing the child would have cost her a life sentence

The facts are straightforward and undisputed, even if Foster was a little late in changing her plea to ‘guilty’. A mother of three, she had become pregnant once more and decided – again, very late in the day – that she did not wish to have the baby. She knowingly lied to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service about her stage of pregnancy in order to obtain the drugs which would induce an abortion and the BPAS, not terribly rigorous in its procedures during Covid, it seems to me, bunged her the dope in the post. Foster was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant when she took the medication. Another couple of weeks and killing the child would have cost her a life sentence.

The outrage is because she has been punished at all and, particularly, been given a (partly) custodial sentence. There has not been the slightest whiff of outrage or even vague misgiving over the fate of the child – but then, this is absolutely par for the course these days, as we see every time the abortion issue is debated. The same mindset is present when we talk about women who had their children removed from them by the state and handed to foster parents back in the 1960s and 1970s because they were unable to look after them – it is always about how the woman feels, not the offspring. The same applies to arguments about state-sponsored child care. In each case, in the public debate, the child and its rights are completely ignored.

A foetus which is between 32 and 34 weeks developed is a child. He or she could live independently outside the womb. The drug mifepristone will have been used to kill the baby and will have gone about its work by effectively suffocating the foetus, preventing oxygen from reaching the child through the lining of the uterus. The baby’s pain and distress are impossible to imagine.

But what of poor Ms Foster – who was, by all accounts, a good mother to the three children she allowed to live? This is where the public sympathy resides, it seems. The reliably odious Caroline Nokes MP said that parliament should debate changing a law so that women like Foster were not criminalised. The BPAS and Labour’s Stella Creasy said much the same thing. Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 screeched its righteous womb-centred fury until the cows, eventually, came home.

Underlying the anger are two cultural sub-texts. The first and most obvious is the belief that women should be allowed to abort their babies whenever the hell they like, because the baby is carried in their bodies and so they should have complete jurisdiction. I have to say that I find this a tempting argument. It is at least morally unambiguous, unlike our abortion laws, which Stephen Daisley here called a ‘pragmatic compromise’ but which might equally be called an amoral fudge.

Currently we set the limit for terminations at 24 weeks: a baby born at that stage would be frail and have a less than 50-50 chance of living, but its brain has been developing rapidly for 16 weeks. A foetus at 34 weeks is, as I said before, a virtually fully developed child, so if we were to sanction a mother’s right to abort at that late stage, why would we not allow infanticide? Indeed, a good few left-wing ethicists, including Pete Singer, suggest precisely this, presumably because they cannot bring themselves to be opposed to abortion in general. Infanticide is morally defensible, they say, because the child is still utterly dependent upon the mother. This argument has been used by ethicists to justify, in particular, infanticide of severely disabled babies and is usually held in repugnance by the rest of us who are not professional ethicists. If there were to be a compromise, then seven or eight weeks seems about right to me – before the foetus is sentient.

‘We’re here to claim Universal Basic Income.’

The other subtext is the belief that no women should ever go to prison for anything, ever. It is an argument which you will often hear advanced by feminists, some of whom seem incapable of believing that women can ever do any wrong. (They can, though. I have met women who have done wrong, loads of them.) The argument is that women currently make up a very small percentage of the prison population and the overwhelming majority of them are inside for non-violent offences. Further, the argument goes, those that are incarcerated often have very low educational abilities and are, uh, ‘victims’ of one or many debilitating addictions. Sure, but the same applies to most of the men banged up, too. None of this quite convinces me that prison should be for men only. Quite apart from being sexist, of course, it seems against natural justice.

It is possible to feel a certain sympathy for Carla Foster while also believing that it is right that she went to jail. She cheated the system in order to inflict pain and then death on a sentient human being. The court accepted her remorse, but that remorse suggests to me that she herself knew exactly how very wrong her actions had been.